The greedy brother and the rich fool
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (cf. Luke 12:13-15)
Jesus’ particular response to the person and then admonishing the crowd to guard against greed implies that the person who wanted his brother to share the inheritance with him was acting on greed. In Catholic teaching, greed is defined as a disordered desire for material wealth. It is a mortal sin. It is one of the 7 deadly sins because it leads to other sins. Greed also leads to idolatry, hoarding, wastefulness, the dehumanization of others and a false sense of happiness, among others.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that greed is a sin directly against one’s neighbor, since one man cannot over-abound in external riches without another man lacking them; it is a sin against himself, since it causes disorder in his affections; it is a sin against God, inasmuch as man contemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things. (Summa Theologica, 2/2/Q118/A1/AD2)
Can a person be greedy for things other than material wealth? Yes, but based on what we have covered, it has to be things that others would be deprived of, something that would disorder one’s affections, and something that would make one contemn the things eternal. For example, one could be deemed greedy for a person’s attention if it deprives others from getting much needed care from that person.
Jesus then told the crowd a parable: “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (cf. Luke 12:16-21)
In the Parable of the Rich Fool, the rich man was confident that his plan of accumulating so much material goods would guarantee him a life of eating, drinking and merrymaking. However, all his planning and effort ended up in vain because of one thing that he can’t control – his unexpected death. He cannot take all his accumulated wealth with him to the next life, so someone else would benefit from all his hard work. The Book of Ecclesiastes put it this way: Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet he must leave his property to another. This is vanity and a great misfortune. (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:21)
What then is the remedy for greed? Jesus answers that question in the succeeding verses: (cf. Luke 12:22-34)
Jesus then said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing… Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? … do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink… All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides… Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
The remedy for greed is to seek the kingdom of God and to grow in virtue. The virtues opposed to greed are gratitude, generosity, self-denial and charity. Some people think that they are being generous when they give away the things they no longer want; but clearly, that is not generosity. Some people think that they are not being greedy when they get more than they need; but the more one gets, the less there will be available for others. However, there is one kind of treasure that no one can be accused being greedy of, and that is treasure in heaven. Even if everyone gets as much as they want, this kind of treasure remains inexhaustible. Wanting to accumulate treasures in heaven is not a disordered affection nor is it a sin against God because it is ordered to God. Therefore, let us put our hearts only in this kind of treasure.
Just a reminder for those who wish to attend the closing ceremonies of the Chinese Cursillo, please be at the Carmel Retreat Center at 2:00pm. For those who wish to attend the dinner for the Chinese Cursillo clergy and organizers, please be at Oriental Pearl seafood restaurant at 6:00pm.
GRACE Scholars, Inc. has funds available for the upcoming school year to provide scholarships to students who wish to enroll in our Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. These funds are intended only for families in financial need in order to give their children an opportunity to have a Catholic school education. For more information, go to gracescholars.org. If you need assistance, please contact Fr. Bill.
Prayer List: Jiang Mama, Carolyn Johnson, Alice Stanley, Pan Bohao, Wang Dacheng, Long Guorui, Zhang Qiang, Xu Taicheng and Qiu Laihao.